Our Minister announced on August 31, 2016 that Veterans Affairs Canada would be increasing outreach to the Northern Territories. Since then the Ottawa Area Office has been hard at work. The territory of Nunavut is included within its catchment area and—up until now—there have been limited field office visits to the territory.
We created a northern outreach team incorporating the expertise of a Veterans Service Team Manager, two Case Managers and a Veterans Service Agent. The focus of our initial visit was to the capital city Iqaluit, which means “place of many fish” in Inuktitut. Iqaluit has the largest population in the territory, at just over 7,000 residents. The team spent the months leading up to their first official visit connecting with the known Veterans living there as well as community, health and government organizations.
The team traveled to Iqaluit on November 27, 2016 for six days of outreach presentations and one-on-one meetings with Veterans and their families. We landed at 4:00 p.m. in total darkness, as the sun begins to set at 2:00 p.m. At –25oC with blowing winds off Frobisher Bay, there was a considerable drop in temperature from balmy Ottawa. The sunrises also deserve mention—they are spectacular when they finally occur at around 8:30 a.m., providing much-needed beauty and warmth for the day.
Our first day found us settling in and meeting with the staff at the Service Canada offices, our work home for the week. The staff greeted us warmly and ensured we had all we needed to serve our Veterans and their families. Our week was full, with presentations to current and potential Veterans, their families, and various community, health and government organizations with whom we are working to create partnerships. Of special note, we were able to connect with, and were warmly welcomed to, the Iqaluit Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion (RCL), which has the largest membership per capita of any RCL in the country.
We learned many things on this first trip to Iqaluit, aside from the necessity of long johns and warm winter boots. There are Veterans, still-serving Canadian Armed Forces members, Canadian Rangers and RCMP members and their families who will benefit from in-person one-on-one visits with VAC staff. We also know there are many other potential Veterans and their families to reach in Iqaluit and in the 27 outlying communities that compose Nunavut. We were able to learn first-hand about the many challenges facing our Veterans and their families accessing service providers due to the limited resources within the territory. We look forward to working with them to help overcome these challenges. We have brought much work back to the table and look forward to our next visit as we continue to support and connect with our Veterans and their families in Nunavut.